It's not all about Niagara.
There’s a stretch of shoreline that covers the north shore of Lake Erie where 18 wineries currently stand. The wines in this region offer something that’s a little different than what you find from Niagara or Prince Edward County, and it’s worth exploring.
Niagara and Prince Edward County wines tend to tip their hats to France with high acidity on the finish and more restrained and elegant red wines. The Lake Erie North Shore wines offer a slight taste of something from a warmer climate. Fruit flavours are much more ripe and heavy, but the wines hold onto their high acidity. While they may offer a glimpse of California or Italy these are distinctly Canadian wines.
Located in the southernmost tip of the country, this area benefits from an extra four weeks of growing time thanks to milder springs and later falls. Despite the benefit of a longer growing season the shore isn’t immune to cold winters. The cold winters in 2013 and 2014 devastated many of the vineyards in the Lake Erie North Shore. Most wineries had no fruit from their vineyards to make wine with during the following years. Winery operators are more hopeful this year given the mild winter and early spring. The vineyards that I had a chance to visit were a step ahead of the vineyards in Niagara. If nothing goes terribly awry with the weather from now until harvest it should be a good year.
One winery I visited was Cooper’s Hawk Vineyards. I have tasted their reserve red wines on previous occasions and have been impressed by them in the past. The owners recently opened a restaurant at the winery, so there is something to be said about the experience at the cellar door. The portfolio is diverse and while everything won’t appeal to everyone I am confident that you will find something you will enjoy. Many of the white wines are off-dry, but are still balanced with good acidity. The 2013 off-dry riesling brings something a little sweeter to the palate. The flavours include peach and apple with a nice mineral note. The finish has nice acidity, but not enough to completely wash away the fruit. The 2013 reserve cabernet franc is a textbook example of the benefits of a longer growing season. The fruit in the wine is blackberry, black currant, and raspberry. The fruit flavours from this wine are a heavier and darker than what you will find in a typical Niagara cabernet franc.
This corner of the province is also home to Pelee Island, the southernmost point in the country. When you are on the island you are actually farther south than Mendocino county in California. The ten thousand acre island is also planted with 500 acres of grapes. Five per cent of the island is dedicated to making wine. What’s remarkable is that even with the grape growing taking place on the island, when it comes time to harvest all the grapes need to be shipped to the mainland to be turned into wine. Pelee is one of the largest wineries in the province and you can find their wines in virtually every LCBO in the province. Beginning this year you will be able to identify wines produced with grapes from the island because they will be labelled with the VQA South Islands designation.
Here are a couple of great summer wines available from the Lake Erie North shore right now:
2014 Pelee Island Lola – LCBO 450981 – Price $12.95 – ****
This sparkling blend of vidal and chambourcin is something that you should plan on drinking a lot of this summer. It’s off-dry and you get a bit of sweetness on the finish, but the bubbles keep this wine from coating your mouth with a layer of sugar. The flavours are raspberry, strawberry, citrus, and just a whisper of spice on the finish. This will make a great mimosa, but even at this price it is great wine to enjoy on it’s own. Pelee Island really needs to be applauded for putting together such a fantastic package and great wine at this price point. This wine won best label at the 2016 Ontario Wine Awards.
2013 Cooper’s Hawk Talon White – Vintages 425934 – $13.95 – ****
This is a blend of several different aromatic white grapes. The aromas will be like a bouquet of wild flowers growing in an orchard. This wine is bone dry and driven by orchard fruit flavours—apples, peach, and citrus flavours. This is an easy drinking patio sipper that can be enjoyed on its own with the hot weather. If you must pair with food, enjoy this with grilled or fried fish.
Here are a couple more for your weekend trip to the LCBO.
2015 Featherstone Sauvignon Blanc – Vintages 89011 – $17.95 – ****+
Aromas of lemon, lime, and a bit of a grassy note. While the nose is straightforward, once the wine hits your mouth things really get interesting. The citrus flavours are dominant with the lemon and lime from the nose taking over. You also find peach, apple, and a very strong mineral note. The best part about this wine is a subtle creamy texture that caresses the mid palate and helps some of the more subtle orchard and mineral notes linger in spite of high palate cleansing acidity. I would look to enjoy this with freshly shucked oysters.
2011 Megalomaniac Vanglorious Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot – $24.95 – ****
This is a solid barbecue wine. The aroma is loaded with smoke and damp moss, so when I’m talking barbecue I mean any style or shape. Whether your preferred method of cooking meat is smoking a brisket for 12 hours or cooking a steak to perfection (rare…right?), this wine has your glass taken care of. The fruit in the glass is black currant, blackberry, dark cherry, and raspberry. The year it was made, 2011, wasn’t a particularly warm vintage for the bordeaux varietals from Ontario, so I wouldn’t worry about holding this in the cellar for more than a year or two. Save your patience for cooking something in the smoker and enjoy this wine now.
2014 Tawse Spark Limestone Ridge Sparkling Riesling – Vintages 370361 – $19.95 – **** –
This is a “serious” wine at a very “not serious” price. This is a traditional method sparkling wine, which means that the fermentation giving it bubbles takes place in the bottle. The nose is bright lemon and lime but there are hints of a field of wild flowers just underneath it. To call this wine complex might scare someone away from popping the cork loudly on a patio with a group of friends, but this wine from Tawse is a perfect excuse to pop a great bottle of bubbly on the patio with grilled fish or for brunch with bacon. The high acidity and bubbles from this wine keep the palate clean and refreshed, which means that this will pair with just about anything you can put on the table next to the bottle (except for maybe a great steak).